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Does Flea & Tick Shampoo work for Dogs? (Vet Explains)

does flea and tick shampoo work for dogs

Parasite treatment options are vast and it can be difficult to navigate all the articles online; it can be almost overwhelming. You just want to do what’s best for your fur-baby while effectively killing the most common dog nemesis – the flea! 

Fleas and ticks carry disease, can cause allergic skin reactions, and are in general a pain in your dog’s butt (sometimes literally). So how can you help your pooch – read on to find out do flea and tick shampoo for dogs work?

Common bugs are just that, common. It can often feel like fleas are everywhere and your dog will encounter one at some stage in its life. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD – a great acronym for a horrible condition) is relatively common in my patients and I advise a multi-pronged approach to protecting my patients. 

This includes flea and tick shampoos for particularly sensitive puppers. These shampoos complement other treatments when used judiciously and I use a combination of shampoo and oral or topical treatment on my own fur-babies depending on their risk level at the time. 

Is Flea and Tick shampoo effective?

Flea and Tick shampoos are effective at killing the pesky parasites that are currently on your pooch but may not prevent new ones from arriving. It’s rare for any single method of flea and tick treatment to be 100% effective and these products are no exception.

Environmental treatment is needed to prevent new parasites from hopping onto your dog. Not all shampoos are created equal and while touted as a treatment for killing and preventing flea and tick infestations, some are more effective than others. In order to get the best results from these shampoos is to follow the instructions on the package as some require a prolonged contact time after being massaged into your dog’s fur. 

Flea & Tick shampoos can be an effective method of killing fleas and ticks on your pooch but the instructions for each product needs to be followed to get the best results. Not all shampoos lauded as flea and tick treatments actually work though so research the best for your pooch and lifestyle. 

How does Flea & Tick dog shampoo work?

There are two broad methods that classifies these shampoos associated with their methods of action. 

Medicated Shampoos

These shampoos contain medications that have been scientifically proven to kill fleas and ticks. Pyrethroids are arguably the most common of these medications in these shampoos. As with many of these products, the most effective ones often require a prescription from your veterinarian, and following the instructions carefully is important to ensure effective and safe treatment for your pooch.

Natural Shampoos

  • These shampoos tend to contain essential oils and citrus extracts such as limonene. Some of these even contain oils that are toxic to dogs such as peppermint or cinnamon oils.
  • Natural shampoos also cover the “homemade shampoo” treatments that are often recommended on the internet. Many of these also advise the use of toxic essential oils, vinegar, and dish detergents. Some of the ingredients are drying and very harsh for your dog, especially if they have sensitive skin. 

Whether you choose a “medicated” or “natural” shampoo for targeting fleas and ticks on your dog there are risks. Careful research will help you to make the best decision for your dog and if in doubt, always speak with your veterinarian before trying a new shampoo.

How often should I use flea & tick shampoo on my dog?

The frequency of flea and tick shampoo application varies with each product, but since there tends to be poor residual action most tend to need reapplication up to every two weeks. 

Frequent use can be drying and harsh on your pooch’s skin so these shampoos aren’t suitable for every pup. If your dog has sensitive skin, can’t tolerate such frequent bathing, or if you need longer residual action then using spot-on or oral products are a better option. 

Every product is different in their duration of action but most average about two weeks with their efficacy waning significantly toward the end of this period. Not all dog’s, or their skin can tolerate frequent washing with some of these products.

How fast does it take for a flea shampoo to work?

These shampoos tend to be effective in contact with your dog and may require to be left on your dog’s skin for up to ten minutes before being carefully rinsed out. These shampoos also need to be massaged thoroughly into your dog’s skin which can be tricky in long-haired or double coated pooches before measuring their contact time can even start.

Always avoid your dog’s delicate eye and ear areas and never use on broken or irritated skin unless directed by your DVM. You may notice some fleas “jumping ship” when you’re bathing your dog toward their nose and mouth or eyes but never be tempted to use the shampoos on this area. 

Flea and tick shampoos tend to require prolonged contact with your dog’s skin to kill these pests. You should expect to leave the shampoo on your dog’s skin for up to 10 minutes or so, always read the label and you may need some treats or toys to distract your pooch and keep them occupied during this time. 

Flea and Tick Shampoo risks

As you can probably guess, there are always risks when using products that are designed to kill parasites. If your dog has any skin issues, other health concerns, or a heavy infestation then you should discuss treatment methods with your veterinarian before using a new product or shampoo. 

Medicated shampoos target a parasite’s nervous system and if used in large enough quantities, may affect your pooch’s system too so always follow the instructions and discuss their use with your DVM before using. 

This is particularly important if using a product for the first time or if your dog has a neurological health condition such as epilepsy. Herbal shampoos may irritate sensitive skin or even cause toxicity in some dogs so they should also be used with caution. 

No shampoo is completely free of risk to your dog whether medicated or not, this even includes “regular” shampoos not targeting any parasites. dogs with sensitive skin are particularly prone to having reactions to shampoo products. 

Flea and Tick Shampoo benefits

Using an anti-parasite shampoo can still be beneficial to many dogs as part of your typical anti-parasite routine, especially if you live or exercise your dog in a high-risk area for ticks. Just make sure to not bathe your dog more than every two weeks unless directed by your veterinarian and after topical medication applications, don’t bathe for at least 48 hours to allow complete absorption and maximal effect. 

Enhancing other methods of flea and tick prevention

While shampooing too often can actually lessen the efficacy of some topical products, if your dog has a heavy infestation of fleas bathing them a couple of days before applying a topical medication and using a flea comb can significantly lessen the number of pests on your dog’s skin and help soothe the intense itching that comes with them.

Aiding tick removal

Alongside your routine “tick check” after walks in high-risk tick areas, bathing your pooch can help you find and remove ticks; both through directly massaging them all over with the shampoo so you may feel some you might miss (especially with long-haired pups), these shampoos can help kill the tick and make their removal easier. 

It’s not all doom and gloom with these shampoos! Medicated shampoos can enhance the killing power of topical treatments while some natural shampoos can also target these pesky parasites without extra chemicals if your dog is sensitive. 

Is Flea and Tick shampoo safe for puppies?

The answer to this question is it depends on the puppy’s age. Some medications for fleas and ticks can’t be used on puppies less than 8-12 weeks due to their risk of toxicity. 

Puppies aren’t precocious babies and need lots of support from their mum in the early days, so environmental treatments tend to work best in mild infestations of bugs. The great thing is ticks are much less likely to be found on young puppies as they’re not out and about like their mum. 

The biggest risk to babies is arguably toxicity. If small pooches are at an increased risk of toxic reactions to shampoos, puppies are doubly so due to their small size and the fact that their systems aren’t fully developed.

Bathing puppies in these shampoos does come with risks and environmental treatments are often needed; having said that heavy flea infestations can have significant health implications too. Chat with your vet if your baby pooches have a heavy infestation before using any products to determine what’s best. 

Flea and Tick shampoo common active ingredients overview

The most common medicated ingredients in these shampoos are:

Pyrethrin

This targets the parasite’s nervous system causing paralysis, death and thus “falling off” your dog. This chemical primarily targets adult fleas. Did you know that pyrethrin is actually a natural chemical extracted from Chrysanthemum flowers?

Permethrin

Permethrin targets fleas in the same method as pyrethrin and is actually a synthetic derivative of pyrethrin. The extra benefit to this medication is that if arrests the development of flea larvae and eggs. 

Herbal or non-medicated shampoos (including home-made) have so many ingredients that it’s impossible to make a complete list of the most common but they can largely be grouped into two sets:

Essential oils

Shampoos containing essential oils tend to be a mixture of very diluted oils which reduces their risk to your dog. There are no complete scientific studies to date showing their safety or even their efficacy at killing fleas. 

It may be that the action of “drowning” the bugs is actually what kills them. Some products contain oils that are toxic to dogs such as peppermint and wintergreen. 

Vinegar

These don’t actually kill fleas and may act as a mild repellant. The risk of drying out your dog’s skin doesn’t make them worth the time in my professional opinion. 

Popular Flea and Tick shampoo brands

We’ve chosen our top three shampoos to help you make your decision:

You can probably see that our top three are medicated shampoos; this is because they’re the only products scientifically proven to kill fleas and ticks. Though they may not need a prescription, these shampoos help to kill and repel bugs from your dog. 

Homemade dog shampoo for fleas

I don’t recommend any homemade shampoos recipes for pooches because it’s very difficult to get the right concentrations (and there are so many variations out there, not all of which are safe for your pooch) that are safe and won’t irritate your dog’s skin. In a pinch, bathing your dog in their regular shampoo can help soothe their skin and “drown” some fleas at the same time. 

In general, don’t use homemade shampoo recipes to treat fleas due to their high risk of containing toxic ingredients or adversely affecting your pooch’s skin and none of them have been proven to work. Bathing your dog in their regular shampoo may help but never use dish detergent as it’s harsh and drying on your fur-baby’s skin. 

Other ways to treat Fleas and Ticks

Topcial/Spot-on treatments

These are generally monthly applications between your dog’s shoulder blades and work through absorption into their skin.

Oral medications

These are usually monthly or quarterly products and are great alternatives to topical treatments as their efficacy is less likely to be affected by frequent bathing. The drawback is that the flea or tick has to bite your dog in order to work.

Essential Oils/Herbal products

We don’t know how these (or even if) work at killing fleas but they probably repel them due to their strong odor. Never apply essential oils directly to your dog’s skin without diluting them first as they can cause “chemical” burns or reactions. Always use safe oils; check out our article on this here. 

There are many other products that can be used in conjunction with shampoos to target these nasty critters. A combination of methods is often the most efficacious at keeping your dog pest-free.

When to see a vet?

Number 1 and 2 reasons to see your vet is before you use any new product or your dog has a heavy infestation of fleas or ticks. 

Puppies should never be bathed in shampoos until you check their safety (most can’t be used in babies less than 12 weeks). Even mild infestations of fleas can be dangerous to babies due to their risks of transmitting diseases and causing significant blood loss and anemia. 

Always check with your veterinarian if you have a young puppy with fleas or before you use any new product. It’s always good to check about combining some products to prevent toxicity too. 

The Final Woof

Always consult with your DVM before using a new product or if you have any concerns about what’s best for your pooch.

So, our comprehensive article should help you make an informed decision about what products are best for your pooch.

As a veterinarian, I’m cautious about what I advise for my patients when it comes to any treatment (not just flea and tick treatments). While you may not want to overload your dog with chemical products, your vet will always have their patient’s best interests and health at heart and wouldn’t recommend something they don’t use on their own fur-babies. 

There are some excellent products out there and remember, just because it has a scary-sounding ingredient, many of these were originally developed from botanicals. Pyrethrin is a prime example of this, having been derived from the Chrysanthemum flower. 

Never use a product that contains toxic ingredients, even if it sounds safe or is lauded as a herbal or natural alternative to medications.

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